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Florida Students and Professors are Suing Senate Bill 266 Claiming It Censors Their Academic Freedom

At New College in Florida, students and professors are suing education officials over a law they claim restricts their academic freedom.

Image courtesy of Associated Press


September 18, 2023

By Vaneti Ceus

MIAMI–Senate Bill 266 was first signed into law on May 15, 2023. The first Florida school to deal with the repercussions of the law is New College located in Sarasota, Florida, which is a progressive school with a prominent LGBTQ+ community. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his supporters claim that the school was indoctrinating students with leftist ideology. Senate Bill 266 passed by the Republican-dominated legislature outlaws spending on diversity programs, curbs professor's tenure security, and prohibits the teaching of “identity politics” in Florida public schools. The new law also directs university leaders to monitor programs that say that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.

Given New College's unique status as an honor college dedicated to the liberal arts and to attracting free thinkers, it's in a vulnerable position to censorship, bans on diversity initiatives, and the application of critical race theory that is placed into this law. The court documents allege that the law is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause of the Fourth Amendment because it fails to sufficiently specify what behavior will draw punishment. In addition, the professors and students are claiming viewpoint-based discrimination against protected speech in violation of the First Amendment. They believe that it jeopardizes courses at the honors college on gender studies, queer studies, race, sociology, feminist philosophy, and other subjects that affect the school's curriculum, textbooks, classroom teachings, research, and students educational experiences. The complaint states that by dictating to students what ideas are true and false Florida runs headlong into the Bill of Rights.

In order to determine if the viewpoints advanced by their professors have merit, student plaintiffs must first have the opportunity to encounter them. The professor plaintiffs are willing speakers and the student plaintiffs are willing listeners who desire and have the right to engage in academic discussion concerning topics prohibited by SB 266. The passing of this bill has put more restrictions on tenure protection for faculty and denied professors the right to arbitrate employment disputes. Furthermore, it has eliminated many areas of concentration and majors in academic fields like gender studies, history, art, English, and sociology which directly affects the rights of current and future faculty and students at New College.

The suit names Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, The Florida Board of Governors which oversees the state, and the Board of Trustees at New College as defendants in this lawsuit. None of them have made any comments on the accusations the professors and students are making. The proceedings of this lawsuit can fully determine the role that the government plays in students' education and how far they are willing to go to censor student's academic freedom.

Deputy Director of the Media Relations Team at Teens for Press Freedom, Aydin Levy, shares that “it's a fundamental right that educators are able to teach all-encompassing material and students are able to learn about critical topics. Students are the next leaders of our world and it's important they learn a variety of topics so that they themselves are able to find what they believe in. Censoring material, like the students and professors claim Senate Bill 266 does, is unacceptable and reveals how we need to prevent a single narrative from becoming the dominant one”.



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